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Sainsbury's risks Fairtrade's lifeline for world's poorest tea producers

5th Jul 2017

Immediate release - Photos available of 'human teabags' outside Sainsbury's AGM

Sainsbury's risks Fairtrade's lifeline for world's poorest tea producers

A lifeline to poor tea producers and farmers is under threat as Sainsbury's abandons the Fairtrade mark on its own-brand tea, warned Oxfam and CAFOD today ahead of the supermarket's annual general meeting in London.

Sainsbury's decision to replace Fairtrade certification with its own 'fairly traded' scheme for some product lines means that tea farmers and producers no longer directly control how they spend the cash bonus or premium they receive on top of what they earn for the tea. Instead, they have to apply for funding to a board set up by the supermarket in the UK.

The premium of just less than 10 percent on the price of Sainsbury's Fairtrade tea goes to approximately 230,000 tea farmers and producers in Malawi, Rwanda and Kenya, funding better healthcare and schools in their communities, and helping them improve tea production.

Matthew Spencer, Oxfam's Campaigns, Policy and Influencing Director, said: "Fairtrade is a lifeline for many of the most vulnerable communities helping them educate their children and provide vital healthcare.

"Sainsbury's is removing what little control some of the poorest tea farmers and producers have on how they spend the money they make, shifting decisions to a committee far away in London. This power grab turns an effective trade partnership into old school charitable grants. We urge Sainsbury's to stick with the gold standard Fairtrade mark, which is trusted around the world."

Fairtrade tea sales globally are worth an estimated £5 million in Fairtrade premiums for certified farmers and workers. British tea drinkers account for three quarters of Fairtrade tea sales globally, with Sainsbury's the world's largest retailer of Fairtrade products.

In Malawi, recent research found that 42 per cent of children in the tea growing regions are malnourished and have stunted growth, and 11 per cent die before their fifth birthday. Since 2008 Sainsbury's Red Label tea has generated more than £7 million which has been invested in community projects in Kenya, Malawi, India, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Sri Lanka.

Anne Lindsay, lead private sector analyst at CAFOD, said: "There are over 500 Catholic parishes across England and Wales certified as Fairtrade, which shows people value the Fairtrade mark and want to have confidence in the products they buy. We are concerned that Sainsbury's decision does not reflect what small producers want and will create needless confusion for shoppers so we are asking Sainsbury's to reconsider its plans and stick with Fairtrade."

In an open letter to Sainsbury's Fairtrade Africa, the umbrella group for over one million Fairtrade producers and farmers in Africa, said: "We are extremely concerned about the power and control Sainsbury's seeks to exert over us which actually feels reminiscent of colonial rule".

An online petition asking Sainsbury's to keep the Fairtrade mark has already attracted almost 70,000 signatures.


For more information or interviews with Oxfam or CAFOD spokespeople, contact: or mobile: +44 (0)7810 814980 or the Oxfam Media Unit on 01865 472498.

Follow @oxfamgbpress for updates


· Photos of Oxfam and CAFOD campaigners as 'human teabags' with a giant teapot outside the Sainsbury's AGM are available to download here. Please credit images to Andy Aitchison/ Oxfam

· Based on Fairtrade blended everyday tea at £2.00 for a 500g box, the premium is 9.5 per cent of the retail price so 19p of the £2.00 box. In addition, 1p goes to Fairtrade Africa and other services of direct benefit to farmers.

· Link to the Malawi government research

· More information about Fairtrade Foundation's work with tea farmers and workers